SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Katey Stone has a ready answer when asked what it means to be the first woman to coach the U.S. Olympic women's hockey team.
"I hope sincerely that I'm not the last," she said as she guided her team through the preliminary round and into Thursday's gold medal match against Canada. "To be in this position is an incredible privilege, and hopefully there will be many more to follow."
The coach of the Harvard women's team and on leave for the Sochi Games, Stone has the Americans right where they have long expected to be: in the Olympic final, preparing for another game against Canada for the gold medal. The North American women's hockey powers have met in the championship of every world championship and all but one Winter Games, but something is different at this Olympics.
There's a woman standing on the U.S. bench, calling out strategy and player changes.
After three Olympics with Ben Smith in charge of the women's team and one under the tutelage of Mark Johnson, Stone led the Americans to a victory in the 2013 world championship and has a chance for another gold medal in the Olympics. In addition to being the first woman to lead the U.S. women's team, she's also the only female head hockey coach in Sochi.
"I can't get caught up in that," said Stone, the winningest coach in NCAA Division I women's hockey history. "I understand what the significance is, but that's never been something that's driven me. Let other people decide what that means."
Women's hockey is a new sport as these things go, having staged its first world championship in 1990 before joining the Winter Games in Nagano in '98. (The NCAA staged its first Division I championship in women's hockey in 2001.) More comparable to the NHL of the 1940s than the men's game today, there just hasn't been that much time for young girls to grow up playing the sport at a high level, compete at Division I college or on the national team and then transition into coaching.
But it's happening now: Canadian Danielle Goyette, a three-time Olympian, is an assistant coach with the Canadian team, and her former teammate Carla MacLeod is an assistant with the Japanese team that earned its way to the Olympics this year for the first time. (Canada had female coaches the previous four Olympics, but former NHL player and coach Kevin Dineen is leading the team in Sochi.)